…and more importantly, when will they ever be good again?
I’ve been a loyal Browns fan for 30 years, going back to the days of Brian Sipe and the Kardiac Kids. I’ve had my heart broken by Red Right 88, The Fumble, and The Drive (f**king John Elway…) My dad remembers seeing Jim Brown, Lou “The Toe” Groza and Otto Graham, back when the Brownies dominated the NFL.
Now, I am simply not as knowledgable a football fan as some others, so I would like to know why, in the 13 years since the Browns started playing again, they have only made the playoffs once?
Emotion aside, I know they were an expansion team in 1999, and it’s really hard to win in the NFL. But other expansion teams (the Titans, the Texans, the St. Louis Rams) have managed to have some success - all three have at least one playoff win. Only the Jaguars have maintained a team as consistently lousy as the Browns.
So, why is that? Bad drafting, bad management, bad coaching? I know some will use this thread to make some cracks about my native city, but I am legitimately curious about this. (And frustrated, too, of course.)
It is the legacy of being an expansion team, a history of bad management since they returned to the NFL, horrible draft picks, other picks that didn’t work out because they were essentially bludgeoned to death by being a good player on a bad team, bad management, being in a division with two consistently really good teams, bad coaching, and bad management.
Did I mention bad management? There’s a reason the Steelers/Ravens/team that usually makes the playoffs are almost always good and the Browns are almost always bad. It all comes down to the people making the decisions upstairs. Good teams have good owners, consistent long-term GMs, entrenched successful coaches, etc. The Browns have had none of that.
To be fair, the Titan have been around for more than 50 years, with many of the years under the Oilers name (I really miss the oil derrick helmets). I know, it seems crazy that someone would think it was more profitable to have a professional football team in Tennessee than in Houston, but that’s Bud Adams. The Rams have been around even longer, but moved around the country a couple times.
Airman Doors highlighted the primary reason. But it is also a bit that they are in Cleveland. Cleveland offers free agents a lot less than many other NFL cities. It is a small market, that has a small footprint to boot. It is hemmed in by a lot of other teams. So even in its small market it loses a lot to Indy, Detroit, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. So not only is it a reputably lousy town, with little to interest the 20 or 30 something athlete. It also has little opportunity for the same athlete to make some extra cash doing advertisements and the like. And he has a lot of competition from the Indians and the Cavs. So Cleveland will generally have to pay more for a player than a team in a more destination type city. In that situation you better have something to make up for those two hits, or have an owner prepared to pay a premium for players.
A place like Green Bay makes up for their similar issues, by having excellent management and coaches. But also by not having any direct sports competition. Of course an even more rabid group of football fans helps as well.
This is less true for the NFL than it is for other leagues. It is far easier to live elsewhere and just work for your team during the season than it is in the NBA, MLB, or NHL, because of the short season. So the average Browns player has to spend a lot less time in Cleveland than a Cav or Indian does. Which means Cleveland’s bad rep doesn’t matter quite as much. And with revenue sharing a small market team has a much better shot of equaling the big boys in other ways. But it does mean that you have to be just a bit better as an owner or manager to run a team in Cleveland than in a place like New York. And Cleveland certainly hasn’t had that.
Yes, yes and yes. Although, I think it’s fair to say that bad management led to bad drafting and bad coaching. A little piece of trivia from the NFL Network during last night’s game illustrates the draft problem very nicely. The Browns have had a different opening day starting QB every single year from 2007 to 2012, starting with Charlie Frye.
An expansion team cannot afford to have a majority of 1st round draft busts in their first several years of existance. The Browns’ best picks since coming back to the league have turned out to be decent at best (with the exception of Joe Thomas who has been a Pro Bowler every year, but unfortunately the LT doesn’t have quite the impact that a QB does).
Yeah, the “unattrative city” explanation just doesn’t wash. Detroit is hardly an urban paradise and yet has had considerable sports success and attracts big name free agents. The erstwhile Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, play in a city probably better known for urban blight than anything else, and seem to do okay. Few NBA teams have as glorious a recent history as the San Antonio Spurs, and while (IMHO) San Antonio is a nice little city, it’s hardly a glamour destination.
The Browns such because they do a shitty job drafting. NFL teams are built with drafts, much more so than in baseball or hockey, and even more than in the NBA, in my opinion. You’ll find few examples of Super Bowl champions that were not built overwhelmingly by drafting. In the last fifteen years only two Super Bowl MVPs were not drafted by the team they won the Super Bowl MVP Award for, and one of those, Kurt Warner, was picked out of Arena Football by his team.
If the Browns’ problems are due to Cleveland being an unattractive, small market city, how do you explain why the Jets haven’t been to a Super Bowl since 1969? Or why the Steelers have done so well in Pittsburgh, which has historically shared many of Cleveland’s problems?
For that matter, Miami sure looks like an attractive spot for a young millionaire to live, but the Dolphins haven’t done anything special lately, have they?
In baseball, it’s fair to say that the Yankees have some huge advantages over the Royals… but in the NFL, revenues are shared very evenly and there’s a salary cap. The New York Giants can’t spend any more on player salaries than the Browns. So, if one team tends to do much better, it comes down to smarter management and/or coaches, rather than to money or market size.
Cleveland’s free agent busts are largely the result of the same poor talent evaluation that leads to shitty drafts. They also suffer a degree of plain ol’ bad luck at times. The Cleveland Clinic has doled out so many staff infections to Browns players you almost wonder if they do it on purpose.
Not Detroit or Buffalo, per se… well actually maybe yes. Detroit is larger, has a famous music scene, and a much more attractive night life. Its market is a lot bigger than Cleveland’s… and has a large hinterland. Cleveland has a media market half the size of Detroit’s, that is limited to NE Ohio. It splits the state with Cincinnati. It loses parts of what should be its market to Indianapolis, Detroit and especially Pittsburgh. In comparison Detroit gets to add almost all of Michigan, losing only a slice near Chicago and the west half of the UP to Green Bay.
So for a player interested in the party life or a maximizing his advertising potential, Detroit would be a better choice. For a player who wants to live close to family, or has ties due to a Big 10 link, Cleveland offers nothing that a half dozen other teams don’t also offer. Now Buffalo? They are probably worse on any measurement.
But for a team like Cleveland, these do count against it. Is it the only thing, of course not. Is it even the most important thing, again of course not. But imagine you are a player going free agent next year. You narrow your choices to two places, New Orleans and Cleveland. Both are offering an equivalent package. Do you go to the French Quarter and a media market that extends across parts of four states? Or do you take the Flats and a market of half of Ohio? Now other things are going to matter, and likely will matter more. Where does your family live? Did you play in the Big10, SEC or somewhere else? You want to play for Sean Payton or Pat Shurmur? But a team like Cleveland just has to live with the fact that it is less attractive than some (certainly not all) other destinations.
The Jags have been the playoffs 6 times, starting in just their second year, and came within a win of going to the Super Bowl in 2000, with an outstanding team which almost immediately fell apart due to injuries and free-agent losses. Hardly in the same league at all.
[I used to root for Cleveland when I was a kid-my native town-and have rooted for the Jags since their inception.]
The Browns problems stem entirely from the front office, ie the current owner, Randolph Lerner, and his late father, Alfred Lerner the previous owner. Their management hires have all been duds, and have all promised a lot more than they delivered.
The Lerners were taught (or mis-taught, more accurately) football management by their friend Art Modell, who was no great shakes at management himself (after the Paul Brown coaches and staff Modell inherited got old that is).
The Browns are due to pass to a new owner, truck stop owner Jimmy Haslam, next month. Haslam was a minority owner with the Steelers for a couple of years, so hopefully he’s learned something then. Haslam made a lot of money pumping gas and selling beef jerky because had had a spare billion dollars to spend buying the Browns.
I sometimes wonder if NFL teams make so much money, no matter what the record, that some owners don’t have the drive to make the extra effort to win a Super Bowl. Oh, they would like to. But it’s not as if an NFL team can double its attendance if it sheds its losing ways and starts winning.
Some franchises can also go through a decade or two of lousy football before they become good. I grew up in the “Rocky Thompson era” of the New York Giants…almost 18 years without a playoff spot and a docile fanbase and media. I find it a little hard to believe the Giants has been pretty good the last 20 years and have won four Super Bowls. The Green Bay Packerss have smart management now. But there was a 30 year period from the retirement of Vince Lombardi and the arrival of Reggie White, Brett Favre and Paul Holmgren to turn the franchise around. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been consistently good for 40 years. But before Chuck Noll came in 1969 (only three head coaches in that time), they had gone 40 years with no playoffs.
See? I told you I wasn’t a very knowledgable football fan. I pay attention to the Browns and the Packers, and sort of forget about anyone else. Thanks for putting me straight.
I’m not buying that argument, for two reasons: One is that all those conditions apply as well to Jacksonville, and as John DiFool pointed out, the Jaguars have had success in spite of being a small-market team, that shares the state with the Dolphins and the Buccaneers (not to mention Florida State, Florida and U. Miami). They’ve also got the Falcons to the north. As a destination, or a place to live, Jacksonville offers even less than than Cleveland (sorry,John DiFool, but Jacksonville is kinda dead.) The only quality-of-life advantage Jacksonville offers over Cleveland is weather and beaches.
And that’s a bit irrelevant, too , which is my second objection - not all NFL players live in their team’s home city. I just this morning listened to an interview with the Vikings’ starting punter, who mentioned that he and his wife live in California. I don’t know how many players go home on the offseason, but I’ll bet it’s more than half. I know that Atlanta, where I live, is home to a number of (non-Falcon) NFL players.
I love my native city (despite 30 years of separation), but I can understand someone not wanting to live there. But in today’s NFL, you don’t have to.
I wonder about this, as well. Cleveland has a rabid and devoted fanbase - the Browns Booster Club is the largest non-local club of any NFL team; here in Atlanta, the only team fan club with a bigger membership is the Falcons’. Ownership knows that they will fill seats in Browns Stadium and attract eyes to Browns games in TV whether or not the team is any good. So where the economic incentive to excel? I think the Chicago Cubs have the same problem. Let’s just hope Haslam has learned something from the Rooneys (who are pure class).